After finding inspiration through her Theory of Knowledge (TOK) coursework, Marie-Louise Brown read Philosophy at University College London. She is now the Head of Citizenship at her Alma mater, the Anglo-European School in Ingatestone, United Kingdom. Marie-Louise will also be responsible for both the delivery of Global Contexts and Personal Projects as her schools looks toward authorization as an MYP school.
I want to engage all students as independent thinkers and philosophical thinkers. – Marie-Louise Brown
As an IB teacher and a DP graduate what advice do you have for current DP students?
I always tell my students that they must be excellent communicators. You need to be a good communicator to get heard, to get people to understand your perspective, to get a point across or to just ask for help. You should be a good listener and always be keen to take on information. You must understand yourself in relation to the world that you inhabit. It’s important to be a part of the world. Don’t be someone who just takes from it, be someone who gives something back, with interest.
A lot of my friends who have done the IB are out in the world and travelling all over. I wanted to come back home because not every child that comes here starts with an international outlook. Most of them start with an outlook formed from the three towns nearest to them and I want them to develop the interest to go beyond that and have the confidence to think “I might want to work in China!”
What impact did TOK have on you as a student?
I had never come across anything like it before and had no idea what it would be like. With everything else, I knew what I was buying into. With TOK, much like CAS, it was an unknown quantity. It was a whole world of experiences that I wasn’t expecting. We were being asked about thinking, and thinking about thinking, and that was so fresh to me at the time. That was 1991 and I remember feeling very consciously, like I was being talked to like an adult, thinking like an adult. It was an open forum and our ideas were valued. Even though we were probably saying things our teachers had heard a million times before, we felt like they were being received as genuine insights. It opened my life up to a world of thinkers. It was a subject that wasn’t about a career. It wasn’t attached to most subjects in school or university. It was more than that, bigger than that and it felt so grand.
I felt TOK did depend on who was teaching. My instructor, Mr. Wells, was a bit of a legend in our school. He was quite a maverick teacher and had an excellent style, was really funny and had a great patter with the group. Everyone absolutely loved going into the lesson. He was invested in the subject as a human being not just a teacher. We were drawn to it and totally sucked in. For example, he would tell us that he had been working on a great theory for years. After telling us his theory, we’d think about it and be able to knock it down and he would be furious with us.
Did the IB help to prepare you for university?
I learned how to become very organized. Up until that point I had been what my mom would call a “last minute Larry.” I learned to spin plates, keep everything going and keep an eye on everything. At university I didn’t have to be as organized, it was more the idea of joining and linking up the thinking that I was able to do. I have a certain independence and independent thinking that helped me because you’re on your own a lot at university. The IB really set me up to get on with it, be pragmatic and be a doer.
When the time came for me to apply to university I thought that I was going to be a sports journalist. I planned to get a journalism degree. But Mr. Wells felt that I had a flare for TOK and a unique way of thinking about it. Once he said to me, “Don’t be ridiculous, you’re not doing that, you’re doing philosophy.” Now I teach philosophy for lower years and sometimes I can also pick up on pupils who seem to have a leaning towards it.
The school I really wanted to go to was University College London. They had a great philosophy department. At the time not many universities were familiar with the IB program or knew what it was but UCL was open to it and I went for an interview. The interview that I had with the head of the philosophy department at the time was very similar to the way my TOK teacher would talk to me. He would throw something out there and expect me to respond thinking on my feet, to be innovative. TOK completely prepared me for that position. I got an offer and went there to study political philosophy.
I think TOK is something that contributes to every single subject. It’s a way to think analytically and go past the drudgery which can sometimes be the focus in schools where teachers say “let’s just get you to pass these exams.” We, as teachers, always want to be inspirational and we want to open minds up. We love the “light bulb moment” when students say that an idea changed their world.
What was your experience with Creativity, Action, Service (CAS)?
It’s been more than 20 years! But, I remember one of my CAS projects focused on drama – we would go into different venues and perform. I also did charity work with an international link; we had a partner school in India. More importantly, there is a connection with my current role as head of citizenship. I actively encourage my students to volunteer and get involved in any way they can to help improve society.
Could you tell us more about citizenship?
Citizenship is a subject in England where we promote and teach students about political literacy, human rights, awareness of the legal system and how to participate in society by volunteering and doing what they can to make society better. It’s a subject that came into being 10 years ago and it’s compulsory for all schools in England to teach. A lot of schools teach it as an add-on but we are really passionate about it here. There are three strands to it. The academic strand requires students to be politically literate, the second requires them to be involved and the third part is a reflection piece.
Your school is now offering the IB Career-Related Programme (IBCP), what is your impression of the new programme?
We offer the traditional British A level system, the IB Diploma Programme and the IB Career-related programme. This gives pupils a real breadth of options. I think the IBCP has broadened the IB experience by opening the eyes of other pupils to the idea of IB, the methodology, and the thought and ethos of IB in a way they can access it and understand it. We are a state funded school and we have children of every single level coming into our school. We have a commitment to our local children, to them we’re just the local school and we have to provide for them. The IBCP is an extension of that. With the new law in the UK that extends the schooling to the age of 18, we are looking to provide an experience that all children can be a part of and is as inclusive as is possible. The IBCP allows for that.